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Obama Calls For Decisive Action Against Climate Change At Paris Summit


An old airplane hangar outside of Paris was the venue for today's opening session of the United Nations conference on climate change. Representatives from nearly 200 countries were there. President Obama challenged his colleagues to agree on a landmark deal that would curb rising temperatures, saying it's a problem they have the power to fix. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The United Nations is hardly known for decisive action, but President Obama told the leaders seated at plywood desks that's what's needed now.


BARACK OBAMA: There is such a thing as being too late, and when it comes to climate change, that hour is almost upon us.

HORSLEY: But even as he pointed to Alaska's melting glaciers as a cautionary tale, Obama sees signs of promise. The United States has managed to cut its own production of heat-trapping greenhouse gases while still growing its economy. The president says the rest of the world can do the same.


OBAMA: One of the enemies that we'll be fighting at this conference is cynicism, the notion we can't do anything about climate change.

HORSLEY: But it will take much more than unilateral action by the United States. To underscore that point, the president met one-on-one with leaders of two other big carbon polluting countries - India and China. China promised a year ago to cap its carbon emissions by 2030. But Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is cautious. Modi said today, environmental protection must be coupled with economic developments.


NARENDRA MODI: A broad section of humanity lives at the edge of poverty. And in our place, after the sun sets, they need energy to light up their homes and power their future.

HORSLEY: Obama agrees. The price of a climate fix cannot be leaving some 300 million Indians with no access to electricity. He's counting on technological innovation to help provide cleaner power to developing countries. Obama and Modi both appeared this afternoon alongside Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who's spearheading a private-sector effort to encourage clean energy breakthroughs. Obama's also pledged to double the government's budget for energy R&D.


OBAMA: We know that if we put our best minds behind it and we have the dollars behind it, we'll discover what works.

HORSLEY: Obama also took time today to huddle with Russian president Vladimir Putin. The two men discussed Ukraine, Syria and Turkey's downing of a Russian jet last week. While combating climate change is the focus of this Paris summit, one cannot escape the shadow of the terrorist attack that rocked this city on November 13.


OBAMA: We salute the people of Paris for insisting this crucial conference go on, an act of defiance that proves nothing will deter us from building the future we want for our children.

HORSLEY: Last night, Obama visited the about the Bataclan concert hall where dozens of people were gunned down by terrorists thought to be backed by ISIS. Tonight, he had a working dinner with French president Francois Hollande, and after a day spent trying to temper global warming, the two men explored ways to turn up the heat on the Islamic State. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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